Switching Languages

Meet Tanya, an SLE Development Associate.

For the last few years, I’ve flown to India almost every summer and winter break to spend time with relatives and family friends. Every time I visit, I am amazed by the number of languages that my family members speak and the ease with which they are able to transition best-cialis-online-pharmacy – this site from one language to another. My aunt, for example, speaks Telugu with my grandparents, English with her friends, and Tamil with her neighbors. When she’s working or out running errands, she switches between English, Hindi, and Kannada, depending on whom she is speaking to. Although most of these languages are in the top twenty most widely spoken languages in the world, many people have never heard of Telugu, Tamil, or Kannada.

When I spoke to Amelia, the executive director of SLE, a few months ago about the Student Language Exchange, she mentioned that both Telugu and Kannada were languages that she wished to include in the SLE curriculum. I was thrilled to hear about the possibility of bringing these languages to university campuses, and I wished that I’d been able to study them while at Brown. I think SLE is an incredible opportunity for students who want to learn the languages their parents grew up speaking, for people who want a beginner course in the language of whatever country they may end up working or living in, and for those who simply enjoy learning about new languages and cultures. In my case, an SLE class would have been the perfect opportunity for all three.

Two years ago, I spent my summer interning for an NGO based in Bangalore. Part of my job involved teaching English and basic computer skills to women in small villages outside the city. In one of the villages I worked in, Kodagahalli, none of the women I worked with, and very few of the other villagers, spoke any English. Most of them spoke only Kannada, which meant that even my feeble attempts to speak Hindi (which had worked in some of the other villages) were useless. During my time there, I learned a few basic words and sentences in Kannada (the most important ones being: “What have you eaten today?” and “Please come to my house for tea,” both of which I was asked on multiple occasions every morning) and was able to get by with hand motions, smiles, and the help of the one or two people I met who spoke both English and Kannada.


Although I had an incredible time in Kodagahalli, and I did manage to learn a bit of the language by living and working there, a program like SLE would have been a great way to learn the basics of Kannada before I headed off to the village. My time there was still valuable, and I found that the women enjoyed teaching me the basics of Kannada just as much as they enjoyed learning English, but it would have been much easier to work with the women if I had some prior knowledge of the local language instead of having to rely on the help of the one or two people who spoke English. My experience in Kodagahalli reminded me how important it is to be able to have a direct conversation with someone in their own language, and that it is so much easier to make a difference if we take that extra step.

SLE is a great way for us to learn more about the languages and cultures that matter to us, and a pretty awesome way to promote change. Although I’ve only been involved with SLE for a couple of months, I can’t wait to see how the program will grow and the ways in which SLE participants will use their knowledge to make a difference, no matter where they end up.

Tanya graduated from Brown in May 2013 with a degree in International Relations. She is now living and working in New York, and spends her free time pursuing her love of languages and working with SLE’s development team.